Improve our housing stock to broaden choices, increase ownership opportunities, and enhance our regional market position, which will increase housing values and tax base.
Oak Ridge enjoys strong job growth and security but that has not translated into accompanying population growth. In fact, while employment growth outstrips most of the communities in the region, population has been virtually flat and little or no population growth is projected for Oak Ridge by the regional planning organization.
Many of the housing issues of today are the same as the housing issues that existed when the Comprehensive Plan was updated in 1988. With over 50 percent of the housing stock built before 1959, and very few new housing starts, potential buyers have limited choices. The City is already working to improve the quality of older neighborhoods, and has implemented programs to expand Neighborhood Watch efforts and offering cleanup containers where homeowners are doing renovations. A rental registration program is underway to identify and track properties, and an Environmental Court was established with an Administrative Hearing Officer to provide judicial authority in reducing blight and crime. Community Development Block Grant funds are being used, along with nuisance abatement general funds, to remove blighted buildings from neighborhoods. In addition, the Oak Ridge Land Bank – one of only three in the state – is receiving and reselling blighted properties to improve neighborhoods and increase home ownership. While helpful, these steps have not yet caused a paradigm shift in our neighborhoods.
The 2017 Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Housing Report, feedback from the Blueprint process, and a study of the major federal employers’ new hires, point to several challenges, as well as hopeful solutions regarding housing and neighborhood improvement. Among the negatives cited, are:
- Lack of new housing options in the starter/move-up ($150-300K) price range;
- Older neighborhoods are not seen as high quality or having positive curb appeal;
- There is a lack of non-chain retail and restaurant choices;
- There is no central gathering place (i.e. downtown or town center) in Oak Ridge.
Although at different phases of implementation, significant activity has begun at three formerly stalled developments: The Preserve at Clinch River (formerly Rarity Ridge), Forest Creek Village (formerly Rarity Oaks), and Groves Park Commons. These developments collectively represent the potential for more than 3,000 new, high quality homes in Oak Ridge, generally in the target price range.
As such, the objective of encouraging new housing in this price range is less of a focus in Blueprint. Instead, this plan emphasizes the persistent problems of housing choice, neighborhood improvement and community vitality, as levers for housing improvement.
A housing committee was formed by the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce in January 2018, to clarify issues and identify the best housing solutions. The committee represents both public and private or non-profit sector entities involved in Oak Ridge housing issues. Housing objectives and actions developed through that process are included as the framework for housing initiative in the Blueprint Plan.
Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Housing Committee Objectives and Actions:
- Expand housing options to increase market position relative to competing areas, by adding high-quality purchase and rental units that are attractive to young families and new hires;
- Add mixed-use development to improve the desirability of housing options for younger residents and newly employed, and encourage spin-off development;
- Develop strategies to restore the heritage of Legacy neighborhoods;
- Continually evaluate city codes and regulations to ensure that housing is modern, safe, attractive and affordable, but does not unreasonably restrict builder interest;
- Promote new, higher-density housing options in the city core;
- Develop and/or support ‘placemaking’ activities that attract new residents by improving the quality of life;
- Complete beautification projects in public spaces, streetscapes and neighborhoods, to make Oak Ridge more appealing.
Through generous support from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Blueprint process has also been augmented through the expertise of Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and their 2018 report, Oak Ridge City Center, A 2030 Strategy. Along with the Chamber Housing Committee work, ideas generated by SOM make up key concepts in the housing section, and throughout Blueprint.
The following list of objectives and recommended actions are intended to broaden housing choices that meet the various economic and mobility needs of the community, and to ensure that neighborhoods are walkable with safe access to amenities and greenways.
- Encourage mixed-use development with a range of housing options in the city center, supported by increased street connectivity to create smaller blocks with greater accessibility to a range of development.
- Work directly with major employers and real estate vendors that assist new hires with finding housing, to promote the benefits of living in Oak Ridge.
- Expand housing choices in Oak Ridge such as condominiums, modern apartments, housing units above ground floor retail, tiny houses, and accessory dwelling units (also known as mother-in-law units).
- Develop incentive programs for home and property maintenance.
- Continue working with existing groups, such as the local Housing Development Corporation, Oak Ridge Land Bank, and Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Housing Committee, to plan revitalization of existing neighborhoods. In particular, implement a renewed strategy for the Highland View neighborhood, which is also located within an Opportunity Zone that currently benefits from certain tax credit incentives. The Waddell Place project, one of the Big Ideas described in this document, will be one of the first partnered accomplishments in Highland View that can also serve as a demonstration project for other legacy neighborhoods.
- Ensure that residents in neighborhoods have easy access to services and nearby commercial uses while protecting the character and safety of neighborhoods and minimizing conflicts between business and residential activities.
- Develop a pilot neighborhood revitalization strategy to involve active neighborhood groups in cleaning and beautifying neighborhoods.
- Encourage restoration of historic homes or designate neighborhoods with historic character to help revitalize legacy neighborhoods and build value through historic resources. At the same time, update the 1991 Historic Housing Survey with current assessment of structures that may have deteriorated and become candidates for blight removal.
- Create a financial incentives working group to identify and market loans, grants, streamlined procedures, etc, to encourage new homebuyers – especially aimed at meeting identified challenges.
- Annually confer with builders, developers, and codes professionals to review codes for effectiveness and adopt updates on a regular basis.
- Engage Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) staff assistance in utilizing existing programs to help support our housing strategy.
- Work with Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) to design and implement a plan for medium density housing development around their main campus in the city center.
- Coordinate with the school district’s facility plans regarding future areas to be zoned for medium density housing, or increased population capacity.
A chart produced by the Knoxville area Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) showing the projected rate of population and employment growth by 2040. Anderson County is the only county in the region where employment growth is projected to exceed population growth.
big idea: WADDELL PLACE INFILL HOUSING
In 2017, the Oak Ridge Housing Authority (ORHA) created a local Development Corporation (ORHADC) to be able to conduct redevelopment projects that increase affordable housing, home ownership opportunities, revitalize neighborhoods, and produce mixed-income communities. The first project chosen by the Development Corporation is a partnership with the City of Oak Ridge and the Oak Ridge Land Bank to build three single-family homes at Waddell Place in the Highland View neighborhood.
The City had purchased properties on the cul-de-sac with dilapidated homes that needed to be demolished or were in foreclosure. After clearing the blighted homes, the City transferred the properties to the Land Bank, and they became available for redevelopment. In the summer of 2018, the ORHADC approached the Land Bank and proposed to re-subdivide the lots to build three homes for local low-income families who are transitioning out of Public Housing into home ownership. Remaining lots will be available to other homebuilders for additional options for affordable home ownership.
ORHADC is preparing model house plans that complement the historic character of the area, which may be used by other builders at Waddell Place. The redevelopment project is the first step in renewing the efforts started by the City of Oak Ridge fifteen years ago to revitalize Highland View. The project is also intended to serve as a demonstration for appropriate infill and redevelopment in legacy neighborhoods throughout the city.